PROPERS: CHRISTMAS DAY I
TEXT: LUKE 2:1-14 (15-20)
PREACHED AT ST. PAUL’S, MAGNOLIA SPRINGS, ON SUNDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 24, 2017.
ONE SENTENCE: The Christmas story needs no elaboration; it is, for Christians, the pivot point of our lives.
As I prepared to preach this evening, I was mindful of two thoughts.
First, is the popular definition of good preaching. It goes like this: “Good sermons have a good beginning and a good ending. And those two parts should be as close as possible.”
The other is from a parish Nora and I used to attend. The Rector – not a great preacher – stepped to the middle aisle, as he normally did, to preach his sermon on Christmas Eve. The church was packed. It was a ripe opportunity to share the Christian message.
The sum total of his sermon that evening was, “It is all true.” Then he sat down.
One can carry a definition too far. Yet, I am aware that never, in my 30 years of ordained ministry, has anyone stood up at the end of a sermon and shouted, “More! More!”
But I know this: There are many here, within the sound of my voice, who do not attend worship services regularly. And it is important for me to share why this night is so special.
The story we just read – from the second chapter of Luke – is at its core euangelion. That is the Greek word for gospel, and from an old English word, godspell. It means good news. It is good news, indeed.
All of us are somewhat familiar with Luke’s account of the nativity. We hear it each year at this time. In my own family, as a child, I read this story to my siblings, my parents and my grandparents. It helps frame this most festive of holidays. It provides the narrative.
It is the primary account of Jesus’ birth. The gospels of Mark and John do not have birth narratives. Matthew’s reference to the birth is passing.
It is Luke’s account which tells us of the historic context. Luke tells us of the birth in a stable, due to there being no room at the inn. Luke tells us also of the manger for a cradle, and of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, and of their devotion there, in the stable.
The Wise Men are not mentioned in Luke. They come later – and in another gospel, Matthew.
This basic story – the story from Luke – needs no elaboration. To do so would be gilding the lily. But it does deserve some emphasis.
And that emphasis is this: This gospel tells us that at a certain point in history – in a particular time and place, under a specific ruler – the creator of all that is moved in history and took on human form.
We Christians call that the Incarnation. As John’s gospel says of that epochal event, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.” The God who created the world, breathed life into human beings, spoke from a burning bush, and parted the Red Sea became a tiny infant, resting in an animal’s feeding trough.
In our technological world, we are hard-to-impress. But the Incarnation is something of a different magnitude which transcends everything else we will know in our lifetimes. I dare say that nothing which happens within our lives will be commemorated in 2,000 years, nor will it cause hearts to melt and lives to be transformed.
The birth of Jesus is a sign beyond all others of the deep love of God for all his children.
That is the unvarnished message of this night: That God loves you so much that he was willing to fully enter into our lost and broken world in order that we might know that love.
And that love is extended most especially to the downtrodden, the broken, the grieving, the lonely, the hungry, the thirsty, prisoners, and those who have committed egregious sins.
All of us. We are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
As Rabbis used to say in other settings, “Everything else is commentary.”